Yesterday, here in Crieff, Scotland, I had two anxiety producing face to face encounters. Both could have caused me pain and blood loss.
The first encounter was with my new Scottish dentist (dental care is so expensive now in the US that my last two dentist have been from the UK). The second was a special meeting at the quarterly gathering with most of the ministers who pastor the churches for a small conservative denomination here in Scotland.
The dentist were far more painful than the pastors. Jill, the dental hygenist, saw to it that I had no more blood to spill by the time I reached the pastors.
I appreciate these ministers giving me an hour to speak to them about my experience as a same-gender loving man in a church and world that often rejected me and told me I had to change. The idea behind the meeting was to have me talk about the pastoral needs of LGBT people (a perspective that I learned from Harry Knox over at the HRC).
Officially this denomination believes that for someone to be gay or lesbian, they must repent of that “lifestyle” and live a celibate life. If not, they run the real risk of dis-fellowhip–they get chucked out. But from having recently been to retreat of LGBT Christians within this denomination, I discovered that many queer folks silently (and some not so silently) inhabit the pews of this church and even take on ministry roles.
The ministers listened attentively to my account of growing up with the belief that gay men are dirty, dangerous, unholy perverts. Spirit-led, Jesus loving, Bible believing Christians did not convince me of this, but people of the World who had nothing to do with God or faith. It was only after I became an Evangelical Christian in my teens that I learned that the conservative Church held to the same party line in regards to gays and lesbians.
Curious, that the sinful, ungodly World and the Spirit-led Church of Jesus would agree so strongly on this one point.
It raises the question, from where does this negative reaction to same-gender loving arise? From honestly discovering the heart of God from the scriptures and in prayer,–a holy conviction–or from an unholy place where oppression and violence rule?
As I spoke, I slipped into Quaker Gear, I am not talking about Plain Dress, I mean like the gears in a car. When I first attended Quaker meeting in Hartford, I heard John and Debbie Humphries present messages in meeting for worship. They spoke slowly, hesitantly, as if they weighed out each word before they said them. They flattened out their tone so that they would not animate their words with too much emotion, simply let the words do their work.
It sounded so strange to me at first, so awkward and artificial. But in time I learned the value of this plain speech and careful construction of verbal messages. Slowing down gives me time to say exactly what I mean to say and not get caught up in the emotions of my own message. In fact, it helps me to get better in touch with my emotions as I speak, and not gloss over them with quick phrases and figures of speech.
So in Quaker Gear, I told my story, of my early love for Jesus and the Bible and how I wanted nothing to separate me from the love of God in Jesus Christ. How I wanted to be pure in heart so that I could see God, and that I would do ANYTHING to be clean and free in Jesus. Therefore, the quest to become “holy” and free from homosexuality became my primary objective in life for nearly two decades.
The conservative church (and many liberal ones too) face the challenge of the Other among them. Usually the outsider is on, well, the outside. But us queer folks suddenly appear as one of the group but then again someone altogether different. The church faces a test, how will they deal with the Other among them. It is one of our gifts to the church to be that Other.
In speaking about homophobia and heterosexism, I often think of the words of Bob Painter, a concept that he left once in comments on this blog. The work of the Church and of individual believers is not to raise the alarm against queer invaders, not to build bulwarks and theological barriers, but to look closely to discover the source of their spurning of queer people. We must no longer conform to the patterns of this homophobic and heterosexist world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
That renewing for me so often comes from sitting and listening to the Other. As a white, able-bodied bio man, I change and learn and grow when I sit and listen to the narratives of women, people of color, transgender individuals and people living with disabilities. These narratives challenge and overthrow my assumptions.
So how did my meeting with these pastors go? Very well, I said what I needed to say, I said it carefully, lovingly and honestly. I stayed vulnerable and present throughout my talk. Will it bring a great change to these ministers’ lives and ministries? Perhaps and hopefully. I know that several queer folks within the denomination will keep speaking their truth like they have been for years. But success in the world of activism cannot always be measured by the response of those who seem to be our opponents. Success, at least for me, is measured by doing what I believe is the right thing to do with authenticity.
The pastors now have their work to do, the work of listening to the Other and listening to God, to separate the messages they believe about us queer folks like a surgeon expertly uses her scalpel to cut out diseased tissue from the healthy, to divide asunder (to use King James English) the flesh and spirit, the things of this world and the things of God.
And I have a hard time believing that homophobia is a thing of God.